The digital transformation in the construction industry
The construction industry is one of the least digitized sectors of the economy to date. There are several reasons for this. On the one hand, because paper plans are still part of everyday life, which often makes coordination between the office and construction difficult and creates unnecessary delays. Secondly, construction workers are usually skeptical about initiatives such as the implementation of automation, and in some cases rightly so. The environment is simply more rustic than that of a comfortable office. Nevertheless, automation is also needed in the construction industry to prevent construction workers from becoming even more isolated from other departments in the company. Otherwise, project delays are no wonder due to poor information flow, for example. Automated work processes are needed that bring the office and construction closer together within the company and make the construction company more progressive and resilient in the market. Because there is no doubt that the construction industry is still a rapidly growing one with enormous potential.
Accordingly, in order to be able to maneuver the exchange of important data within a construction company in a more efficient and up-to-date manner, a workflow is needed. This workflow is supposed to provide remedies for all departments involved, whether office or construction. One thing quickly becomes clear in this industry, especially with the workers outside on the construction site in mind: automation must be able to offer a high level of user-friendliness so that construction workers get involved with them in their daily work because otherwise, it won’t be long before they turn away from them and back to their old and accustomed ways of working. With that in mind, it’s worthwhile for construction companies to automate processes that require relatively little technical expertise while bringing many positive changes. This sounds very much as if the slow progress in integrating automation into the construction industry is to be blamed entirely on the construction workers. Of course, that is only half the truth. On the part of managers, too, digitalization and automation must be seen as a core strategy and not just as a supplement to existing, manual work processes. Foremen (and project managers, as the case may be), since they usually have a great deal of experience both in construction and in the office, must act as a liaison.
A big pain point in the construction industry is that, depending on the scope of the project, many stakeholders from different departments are working on it and constantly rely on synchronized information to stay on schedule and avoid higher costs. Completing construction projects on time, safely, according to customer requirements and within budget is a top priority. Access to information in real-time and from anywhere is essential, especially in view of the widely dispersed project stakeholders. These are precisely the attributes that intelligent data capture and processing automation brings together. With the integration of intelligent, AI-based OCR (optical character recognition) into an existing enterprise content management (ECM) system, all relevant data can be identified, extracted, processed and stored. Previously unstructured data is now automatically structured in the system and can be retrieved at any time and from anywhere. This brings immense advantages for the construction industry:
- Faster payments: Invoices only need to be uploaded. The OCR software does the rest automatically. OCR identifies and extracts all relevant data in the invoice, such as order number, products, supplier address and invoice amount. Validation is performed. If there are no discrepancies in the system, the invoice is paid automatically, freeing the project manager from this tedious work of checking and approving, if that is desired, on Friday afternoon
- Paper-based work is eliminated: Foremen who previously had to manually fill out employees’ daily reports by hand in the company car at the end of their shift and then drop them off at the office at the end of the week or month can now digitally access an already structured form via cell phone, type in the necessary data and upload it. Once again, the software takes care of the rest automatically. Even better, of course, is direct access to an input mask, which eliminates the intermediate OCR step
- Information hub: Delivery documents, construction plans, contracts, permits and certificates, materials and inspections can be viewed by all involved parties as needed, which is extremely valuable because decision-making is always possible in real time
- Security: Thanks to the digitalization of documents, they are safe from damage, be it from the weather or from harsh human handling, for example
- Project progress: All project participants, whether in the office or on the construction site, are always up to date on daily, weekly or monthly targets
Automated data capture and processing using intelligent, AI-based OCR serves as an essential link in the construction industry’s work processes, enabling more effective and optimized collaboration between all project stakeholders in the future.